Vice President, P&C Claims
Capitol Insurance Companies
Years in Current Role:
Less than 1
Years in Insurance Industry:
First Claims Job:
Multi-line field claims adjuster for Commercial Union Insurance Companies in Philadelphia
BBA from the Pennsylvania State University
CPCU, CLU, ARM, and SCLA
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the coal region of East Central Pennsylvania. Pottsville was the heart of anthracite coal country about 100 years ago, and has been struggling ever since. My father worked in a factory and my mother worked at a hospital. My parents wanted us to have better lives than they did without letting us know we weren’t very well off. They helped me set my sights on college, and I was the first in the family to obtain a college degree. My two younger brothers followed in my footsteps and also attended college.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When the weather was good, a lumberjack. Other days, a rock star. I’m pretty good at splitting wood, but never got very far with the rock star thing.
What was your first job in claims?
My first job was as a claims trainee for Commercial Union Insurance Companies in Philadelphia. I was recruited right off the Penn State campus and started the job the first Monday after graduation. I had no clue what a claims adjuster was, but the job offer included a company car and that was enough for me. After a training program, I was assigned a field territory handling high exposure auto, GL, property, WC, surety, and boiler and machinery claims.
How did that first role influence your ultimate career in claims?
I went from knowing nothing about insurance to being totally excited by the claims profession in less than a year. Although I spent only two years as an adjuster, they were the most important two years of my career.
What was it that made you realize you wanted to stay in claims and make it your profession?
While I can’t deny that it was the company car that attracted me, I soon learned that the job offered incredible intellectual diversity. The challenges of working simultaneously in the fields of law, forensics, medicine, accounting, psychology, mathematics, engineering, communications, and human behavior is something that you cannot find in many jobs.
What advice do you give younger professionals entering the claims management industry?
Our industry has grown more and more specialized, and it is not always easy to move beyond your specialization. Seek out new challenges. Be the person who volunteers for the new project or initiative. You’ll learn and at the same time demonstrate your value to the organization. Focusing on performance, technical prowess, personal flexibility, and accountability for one’s own personal development is critical.
When you think of the phrase “top-notch” claims management employee, what comes to your mind?
Someone who is passionate about our profession, technically sound, current on industry knowledge in general and on her or his own claim portfolio in particular, straightforward and level-headed, tough when necessary, compassionate when appropriate, and always looking for improvement opportunities.
What’s the most complimentary thing someone might say about someone’s management style?
Simultaneously earning the respect of your customers, your front lines claims staff, your colleagues, and your board and shareholders.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Collaborative, no nonsense, energetic, and results-oriented.
When you got your first management job, what was your biggest concern?
I was promoted to unit supervisor two years out of trainee school and was supervising a group of people, many of whom were more than twice as old and 10 times as experienced as I was. My biggest concern was how in the world I would stay on top of all the technical details and decisions with seven times as many cases as I had as an adjuster. It didn’t take long (or maybe it took too long) to realize that wasn’t the gist of the new job, and that it was instead about leadership, motivation, accountability, delivery, and managing a team of people and a portfolio of claims to the best outcomes.
Where are the best and brightest ideas in claims management coming from?
Not from any single place. Often, people in new situations see things differently than the people who have been in the situation for a while. Whether it’s a macro industry trend, a company issue, or a specific question on a claim file, fresh perspectives almost always add value. I worked for the Robert E. Nolan Company for a few years, one of the finest management consulting firms in the industry, and surprised myself by what you can see (and just how clearly you can see it) when you’re not the one who has been living with it all the time and staring at it for so long.
If you were to go undercover on the television show “Undercover Boss,” what might you expect to find in your company?
I’ve managed as many as 800 people, and it’s a real challenge to stay in tune with what’s going on and what people are thinking in an organization of that size. At Capitol, our relatively small size fosters a level of interaction not enjoyed everywhere. Many days, I see every member of our claims organization. I think everyone here would agree that while we’re not perfect, we are passionate about what we do, we have great people, and we are achieving some great outcomes and moving forward in a positive way.
What do you see as the role of technology in the claims management profession today?
It’s not about bells and whistles; it’s about the best claims outcomes. Simply stated, technology should facilitate effective claims processes and enable claims staff to perform at their best. Where it doesn’t, we all have important work to do. Those who crack the code on technology efficiencies, adjuster enablement, data insights, and actionable predictive analytics will have a distinct competitive advantage in terms of loss-costs management and profitability, as well as employee attraction and retention. Succeeding here is going to separate the winning companies from the runners-up.
What do you believe is the most important trend, influence, or change-factor in the claims industry today?
Acceleration. Everything is moving faster, whether it’s communications, technology advances, business processes, or customer expectations. We need to master all of these things in an environment of acceleration.
Do you believe there is a talent crisis in the claims management profession?
Yes. We have a talent crisis because we have many veterans retiring and displaced professionals leaving the industry, along with more highly specialized workers with fewer opportunities for growth or development beyond their current desks. We haven’t exactly done a great job of promoting our profession and attracting young talent to it. This all amounts to a call to action that many of us are now answering, and it’s encouraging to see it acknowledged and getting the attention it deserves across the industry.
What’s your industry “pet peeves”?
People who say the claims department is a second-class citizen compared to other departments, or a necessary evil, or even nastier characterizations than that. We often hear that we’re the loss leaders, those who just pay, pay, pay what others have brought in. It makes me crazy when I hear claims people themselves say these things. We all need to actively promote our contributions and prove those negative notions to be wrong. Our profession may be misunderstood, but it is noble and makes a real difference to our employers, our customers, and our communities. Spread the word!
What do you see claims organizations in the future looking like?
I see them becoming more specialized, lean, agile, and sophisticated than they are today. Better at both process and technology, and moving faster and reacting more quickly to changes in our environment. But some things will never change, particularly the human elements. How to deal with a customer who has just suffered a tragic loss, or deciding which case to take to the jury, or how to help an employee with a developmental opportunity—those will always be an important part of our world.
What’s in your technology bag when you travel?
My Blackberry, an ultra-light laptop, and a MiFi device for coverage virtually anywhere.
Are you a Windows or Mac user?
I’m an advanced Windows user. I love the challenge of editing the Windows registry without destroying the machine and must admit that complex Excel formulae are something of a nerdy hobby of mine. I’m also fluent in Mac, and I have an iPad.
Tell me about your family.
I’ve been married to Lori for 30 years, my personal advisor on the psychology of human behaviors, whether it be advice on a touchy customer situation or the jury appeal of parties to a lawsuit. We are the proud parents of two wonderful daughters: Arielle, 21, at Georgia College studying exercise science, and Valerie, 23, at Brown studying archeology.
Is there anything about you that very few people know?
Nothing too offbeat, although I did work as a farmhand for a couple of summers while in school (and narrowly escaped having my name appear as a claimant on a claim file a few too many times). I’ve moved around the country for various job opportunities over the years, including stops in Philadelphia and Reading, Penn.; Seattle; Overland Park, Kansas; Atlanta; and Madison, Wisc. I’ve really enjoyed calling a variety of different places home.
Taylor Smith is a contributing editor and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at email@example.com, (224) 212-0134, www.clmadvisors.org.